We sailed Feb 27 - March 6, 2005. My husband & I booked and paid for a family trip for 9 people ranging in age from 2 to 82. We had 4 cabins. This was our 4th cruise (3rd on Carnival).
We arrived in Miami the day before cruising to avoid flight problems, etc. We arrived early sunday at the port terminal to await boarding. Embarkation went relatively smooth though the terminal was undergoing some construction so it was difficult to hear the instructions as the employees had to shout them. We did note that the terminal staff weren't as friendly as we have normally experienced.
Once aboard, we were impressed with the ship's design. Very patriotic. My 15 year old son loved it. We had a very nice first night aboard just exploring and getting used to the ship. We had early seating for dinner and it was mediocre, but okay.
Our first problem came on Monday morning. We had pre-paid for 9 tickets to the Dolphin Discovery in Nassau before we left home and were on the pier to meet our tour guide 15 - 20 minutes early. Once the hour passed we began to get worried as most all of the other excursions had left with their tour guides. Eventually another tour guide came over & explained that the Excursions manager would be out shortly to speak to us. Paul Heslop came over and explained that there was a mix-up somehow & the Dolphin tour was unaware that we were coming. He then offered to refund our $900+ and send us on a complimentary tour on whatever was left. We were extremely disappointed and chose a tour of Atlantis as it would accommodate all of us. Problem was, it was a strenuous walking tour which was mostly rushed as we were already behind schedule. With a 2 year old & an 82 year old as well as a woman with a bad knee it was not an enjoyable tour. Things happen & we moved on determined to enjoy our trip.
Our next stop was St. Thomas & we had booked all of us on the Atlantis Submarine tour. Once again, on the pier we were told by the tour operator that it was oversold & we could not go. Paul Heslop again stepped in and after much discussion with the tour operator we were somehow allowed to go. Others were turned away & rebooked for a later time.
Our last port was St. Maarten and many of us decided to just hang out at the beach while my son (age 15), my daughter (age 23) & her friend (age 32) decided to do a combination tour of a Golden Eagle Catamaran tour along with some snorkeling. We booked this tour based on Carnival's tour book found in the cabins. Nowhere in this beautiful description did it say: "Booze cruise to nude beach, snorkeling not recommended". My son & daughter came back and said that it was a party boat full of minor children with many extremely intoxicated adults and they went straight to an all-nude beach. The tour guide pointed out a red buoy 1/4 mile or more down the beach and said if anyone wanted to snorkel that's where they could go but he didn't recommend it because if they weren't paying attention and were not back in time they would miss the boat. The kids said it was a long and very rocky walk & was virtually unsupervised by the tour operators so they decided it wasn't worth the risk.
Once they were back on board I immediately went to the Excursion Desk to hear an explanation and wasn't expecting what I heard. Paul Brenner, the manager, upon hearing my son's description of what the tour was like, looked at me & stated "It's common knowledge that the beaches in St. Maarten are largely nude." I asked him how we were supposed to know that as we'd never been there before, he further stated that if we'd bothered to attend the "Travel Talk" the Cruise Director had mentioned it. With 8 other people to keep track of, the Travel Talk wasn't on my radar. So, be aware that in order to find out the "real" scoop on your excursions, do not trust the booklet that Carnival provides for you. In this instance Mr. Brenner might simply have apologized and diffused the situation, but rather he pinned much of the blame on us as travelers & guests.
We have cruised before & do not expect perfection as we were all on vacation and looking to have a good time. Many of the things we found to be unsatisfactory we did our best to overlook as they weren't really vacation makers or breakers just simple disappointments along the way. For example, the food. The food was not the quality that we have experienced on prior cruises, the dinner service wasn't great. Bear in mind if you travel with children they are paying almost full fare, yet the dining room dinner menu is limited to Hot Dogs, Hamburgers, Chicken Fingers & Pizza. This gets tiresome for even a two year old.
On this ship versus others we have sailed on we experienced many indifferent or downright rude employees. For example, my daughter & I were watching my granddaughter swim in the kiddie pool and were unable to find an open deck chair yet there were stacks of them tied & locked together nearby. My daughter approached a crew member to ask whether they could untether them so that we may have a chair (we were sitting on the deck) the crew member said "no." She went on to explain that the reason she was asking is that there were none empty and none on that level and we were willing to share. This crew member simply said "That's too bad" and walked away.
Drink service on the deck was poor at best, we just went & retrieved our own drinks. If you purchase a soda card (very overpriced) for any of your party you might as well plan on getting them yourself because the service staff does not get a gratuity on them & they will do their best to ignore you if they can.
Our last horrible experience with this ship & Carnival in general was Debarkation. The debarkation went fine, it was leaving the Port Terminal that really hurt Carnival. We retrieved our bags and were trying to corral all of our bags & all of our people to the buses to depart for the airport. My husband & I were in charge & had everyone's documents and as we were digging for the bus vouchers, a woman who assists the drivers by collecting the vouchers and directing passengers was rudely shouting at people to get their vouchers out & ready. My daughter was standing nearby with my granddaughter in a stroller and waiting for us to find all of their vouchers when this woman snapped at her to get her voucher out NOW! My daughter told her to calm down and pointed to my husband & myself & told her we were working on it as fast as we could. She snapped back at my daughter & told her "Don't you take that tone with me!" My daughter said "Well you're being very rude and they're working on it." With that, the woman (wearing a Carnival name tag) made an unkind comment in front of my 2 year old granddaughter! My daughter wrote down her name & walked over to where I was standing and repeated the conversation to me at which point I was livid! I dropped my bags & went over to ask the Carnival employee about it. She denied she had said anything of the sort. I told her that I would be sure to include her name in the letter I was already set on writing to Carnival and let them know how she is representing their company. With that she removed her name tag. She went on to tell me "It won't matter, I'll still be here next year when you come back."
As we removed our bags from that bus and went to find another way to the airport, this employee took one more parting shot at my daughter.
Now.......before you book a cruise with Carnival, ask yourself if it's worth spending your annual vacation or hard earned money on a family trip and encounter this kind of treatment when you were expecting quite the opposite. We apologized profusely to our first-time cruising guests after promoting this trip & telling them they would have the time of their life & be pampered by the service they would receive. It did not happen on this ship. I have never encountered so many unhappy, indifferent employees in any past trip. I did write that letter immediately upon our return and to date have not received a response; which surprises me even for Carnival. Don't waste your money on Carnival, we won't again.